Fashion to the Philippines

Trends and opportunities

The market

The Philippines remains a bright spot in the Asia region and is expected to continue to outpace the economic growth of its ASEAN neighbours in 2016. The country ranks highly on key retail market indicators compared to other global markets.

The Philippines has the highest household spending as a per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in East Asia, compared to other emerging markets such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, China and Singapore (Source: Oxford Business Group). 26 per cent of global retailers consider the Philippines as one of the top-10 target markets in the region (source: CBRE).

The Philippine market is seen as one of the thriving markets in the region, especially with its consumer-driven economy driven by a growing young population, who are mostly in the labour force.

The retail landscape has experienced an unprecedented hike, stimulated by the rise of the middle class and income levels. The demand for quality imported products is driven in particular by the country’s young and upwardly mobile population, who continue to be influenced by western trends.

Filipinos love shopping and the mall lifestyle is deeply ingrained in their culture. The Philippines has four of the biggest malls in the world, thanks to the largest local mall chain developer, SM Retail.

200 foreign brands entered the Philippines in the past seven years. 2014 has seen the influx of foreign brands and more international brands continue to fill local malls.

Beyond traditional retail, online has been experiencing steady growth in the country and online marketplace sites like Zalora and Lazada have boosted e-commerce in the Philippines.

Philippines has the second largest average monthly visits in ASEAN for Lazada with 43 million, next to Indonesia (51 million) and ahead of Thailand (21 million) (source: Lazada Philippines, April 2016). Major distributors have quickly adapted and started using the online channel to complement their brick and mortar stores.

Sustained demand and renewed interest from new and existing foreign retailers are expected to remain. This is evident in the growing number of partnerships between local distributors and foreign brands; majority of committed spaces within newly completed shopping malls are for foreign brands; and international retailers replacing older tenants in select existing shopping malls.

The total retail sales as of 2015 is $A928 billion (source: SM Retail Inc., Retail Environment in the Philippines Today, September 2016).

Australian fashion brands in the Philippines

Australian fashion labels have found a niche in the Philippines with several brands active in the market. Australian fashion used to be synonymous to just swimwear.  However, over the past years, Australia has steadily gained recognition in the market as a supplier of trendy, unique, high quality and affordable street clothes and party wear as well as fashion swimwear.  Australia's international acceptance in the global fashion market and the endorsement of celebrity and fashion icons of Australian fashion brands has help boost Australia's image in the Philippines.

Some Australian fashion brands found in the market are as follows: 

  • fast fashion: (For)Ever New, Cotton On Group brands such as Cotton On, Factorie, Typo
  • surf and active sports: Quiksilver, Roxy, Tigerlily, Seafolly, Rip Curl
  • premium to luxury: Cameo, Maurie & Eve, Nicola Finetti, Love Honor, Finders Keepers, nobody Denim, Keepsake The Label, Ixiah, The Fifth Label
  • footwear: Holster.

Filipino consumers

With a median age of 23 years old and an average working age of 24, the Philippines has a young population and a growing number of young professionals in urban areas. Because of this, brands will continue to cater to a pool of more adventurous buyers willing to try new offerings, demanding more product benefits, and spending more to improve their looks. Thanks to social media and word of mouth, this demographic is keen to try foreign brands that are known to be effective or popular amongst peers.

The Philippines is entering the ‘demographic sweet spot’ as the working population is the biggest representative of the overall population, thus creating massive opportunities for growth through consumer spending (source: Euromonitor, Beauty and personal care in the Philippines, May 2016).  

Filipino consumers are aspirational and are observed to be ‘levelling up’. Euromonitor reports that “2015 saw a great trend of consumers desiring to upgrade their lifestyle by trading up from premium brands, which are coveted by the masses and are considered non-exclusive, to luxury brands that display a more desirable higher social status. The changing lifestyle of the young adult consumers, which is in some way characterised by a financial independence through career growth and growing awareness and exposure to investments or business opportunities, benefitted luxury goods in a major way (Source: Euromonitor, Luxury goods in the Philippines, December 2015).

A 2013 Nielsen survey indicates that the Philippines, over the past six years, has been in the middle of Premiumisation. While still price- and quality-conscious, consumers are also demanding and searching for products that will not only make them look good outside but also make them feel good. They are willing to spend on brands that provide value and emphasise higher status.

Price is very important in the market. Consumers can easily compare prices offered in local shops through  online and shops in neighbouring countries.

The Philippine retailers

The top five retailers in the country are SM Retail Inc., Puregold Inc, Gaisano, Robinsons Retail and Rustan’s Group (SSI).

Malls are currently being expanded to cater to a wider range of brands and retail establishments are being constructed. A number of large-scale integrated developments, featuring shopping centres surrounded by commercial and residential buildings, have been emerging as the major trend amongst property developers. Shopping centres were also launched by new players such as the Double Dragon Properties with CityMall, a chain of community shopping, and Metro Retail, which has recently launched its IPO to finance its next phase of expansion.

The current local retail landscape is competitive and major players are in aggressive expansion mode. Selection of brands to bring into the market has become heavily strategic and rigorous, hence it is important for Australian brands to study the market carefully, highlight Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and set themselves apart from competitors. 

While opportunities exist for niche and luxury fashion brands targeting the upscale market, some retails are also looking for high quality, trendy but reasonably priced fashion.

Retailers are not averse to clothes being manufactured in China as long as it is emphasised that they are designed and conceptualised in Australia.  This means the clothes will be more affordable and freight costs and time will be decreased significantly.

Opportunities

Apparel and accessories are the most dynamic and competitive product segments in the fashion retail sector.

While demand for surf/swim wear and street clothes continue to strengthen, there are opportunities emerging in men’s street wear and children’s wear, both swim and street clothes.  Interest in concept stores is also increasing.

Not a lot of brands fall in the category between the premium and luxury range and this is an opportunity for Australian brands to cater to upper middle income to high income groups who are looking for style, quality, and distinctiveness.

Competitive environment

European and American brands currently dominate the market. The top five fashion brands, which include Forever 21, Mango, Uniqlo, H&M and Zara, span different product categories – women’s, men’s, childrenswear, and accessories, amongst others.

Local brands and Instagram sellers also share a pie. Local brands such as Bench and Penshoppe have long been in the market and built solid brand awareness among consumers. Because their pricing are relatively lower compared to foreign brands, the local brands cater to mass market segment.

Thanks to enterprising individuals and fashion hobbyists, Instagram shops are also an option for consumers who favour quantity (i.e. more style and more items in the closet) and cheaper price over quality.

Tariffs, regulations and customs

The ASEAN-Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) has been in place since 1 January 2010. This has contributed to the competitiveness of Australia's products relative to other foreign export sources.  Fashion products now enjoy zero tariff.

Profit margins can be anywhere from 30 per cent to 70 per cent of landed cost. Normally, retailers use a factor of three - four of FOB price to estimate their retail price.

Marketing your products and services

Market entry

Most fashion importers/retailers prefer Australian brands which are already sold in other Asian markets.  This assures them that the brand has already had some degree of exposure in other Asian markets, the sizing is already tailored to Asian sizes and the pricing is suited to Asian budgets.

Buying season is in March with delivery in September (in time for the holiday season), and August for delivery in February for summer. Philippine retailers generally attend spring/summer fashion trade shows as the country does not have a fall/winter season.

Options exist for Australian brands to enter the market:

  • If wholly foreign-owned, it’s permitted for foreign brands under certain conditions indicated in the Retail Trade Liberalization Act of 2000. 
  • Find a suitable local partner, whether a franchisee, distributor or equity partner, as the majority of Australian brands in the Philippines have partnered with Philippine companies due to substantial support in administrative, brand building and marketing, distribution and local footprint.

Brand building

Philippines has a huge social media population. Facebook and Instagram are very popular especially amongst millennials and young professionals. Social media is considered effective and one of the go-to channels in building and promoting a brand.

Fashion bloggers and influencers are usually tapped by brands to broaden awareness and generate word-of-mouth. The Philippines has a strong celebrity culture and the aspirational crowd would normally end up buying brands used by the personalities they follow online. This is a strategy employed by local brands such as Bench and Penshoppe, who select endorsers from Hollywood.

Visual marketing material is important. Look books, websites and samples play important roles as communication tools between the Philippine buyer and the Australian suppliers.

People recognise the ‘Made in Australia’ label and normally associate it with safe and high quality products.

Links and industry contacts

Philippine Retailers Association – www.philretailers.com

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